Readers are what every novelist really wants, so isn't it about time that a reader offered them some advice? I've never written a novel, and don't expect to ever do so, but I've read thousands. More to the point, I've started 10 times the number of books that I've finished. Much of the time, I'm sampling brand-new novels that aren't great -- that frequently aren't even very good -- each one written by someone sincerely hoping to make his or her mark. I can tell you why I keep reading, and why I don't, why I recommend one book to my fellow readers, but not another. I've also listened to a lot of other readers explain why they gave up on a book, as well as why they liked it. Here are my five recommendations for the flailing novice ...Read the whole thing. On the whole, Miller founds her advice on bedrock, emphasizing the need for characters that stop navel gazing and actually do something, as well as the primacy of plot. But one of her points seems about as sure as a fault line: "Remember that nobody agrees on what a beautiful prose style is and most readers either can't recognize 'good writing' or don't value it that much." I mean, really? Whither Strunk and White? And does popular opinion truly hold Cormac McCarthy in the same estimation as those who write of Renaissance conspiracies or twinkling creatures of the night? Yes, there are "as many books ruined by too much emphasis on style as by too little," amen and amen. The blockbusters, though, seem to succeed not because of shoddy diction, but in spite of it. Beautiful style isn't the main thing. But it is something.
(Picture: CC 2007 by anitacanita; Hat Tip: Brandywine Books)